Photopigment basis for dichromatic color vision in the horse

Joseph Caroll, Christopher J Murphy, Maureen Neitz, James N. Ver Hoeve, Jay Neitz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Horses, like other ungulates, are active in the day, at dusk, dawn, and night; and, they have eyes designed to have both high sensitivity for vision in dim light and good visual acuity under higher light levels (Walls, 1942). Typically, daytime activity is associated with the presence of multiple cone classes and color-vision capacity (Jacobs, 1993). Previous studies in other ungulates, such as pigs, goats, cows, sheep and deer, have shown that they have two spectrally different cone types, and hence, at least the photopigment basis for dichromatic color vision (Neitz & Jacobs, 1989; Jacobs, Deegan II, Neitz, Murphy, Miller, & Marchinton, 1994; Jacobs, Deegan II, & Neitz, 1998). Here, electroretinogram flicker photometry was used to measure the spectral sensitivities of the cones in the domestic horse (Equus caballus). Two distinct spectral mechanisms were identified and are consistent with the presence of a short-wavelength-sensitive (S) and a middle-to-long-wavelength-sensitive (M/L) cone. The spectral sensitivity of the S cone was estimated to have a peak of 428 nm, while the M/L cone had a peak of 539 nm. These two cone types would provide the basis for dichromatic color vision consistent with recent results from behavioral testing of horses (Macuda & Timney, 1999; Macuda & Timney, 2000; Timney & Macuda, 2001). The spectral peak of the M/L cone photopigment measured here, in vivo, is similar to that obtained when the gene was sequenced, cloned, and expressed in vitro (Yokoyama & Radlwimmer, 1999). Of the ungulates that have been studied to date, all have the photopigment basis for dichromatic color vision; however, they differ considerably from one another in the spectral tuning of their cone pigments. These differences may represent adaptations to the different visual requirements of different species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)80-87
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 3 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Comparative color vision
  • Cone photopigment
  • Dichromacy
  • Electroretinogram
  • Horse (Equus caballus)
  • Ungulate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology


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